By Sallie James
A decision by the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections to remove a mosque from a list of polling places and switch the locale to a public library has riled voters, both pro and con.
Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher made the decision to move the polling place out of the Islamic Center of Boca Raton and designate Spanish River Library as the Precinct 4170 polling place after receiving complaints from voters.
Bucher said in an email that she received a call that “individuals planned to impede and maybe even call in a bomb threat to have the location evacuated on Election Day,” so she moved the site about two miles away to the library, at 1501 Spanish River Blvd.
“My responsibility as the supervisor was to open 445 polling places on Election Day that were adequate and accessible to the voters,” Bucher wrote. “I was not in a position to address world issues.”
Bassem Alhalabi, president of the Islamic Center of Boca Raton, could not be reached for comment despite several phone calls.
The Islamic Center of Boca Raton is at 3480 NW Fifth Ave.
The switch upset many who said the move smacked of racism, with many voters emailing Bucher asking why churches and synagogues were acceptable polling places but a mosque was not.
“How is this not the definition of discrimination?” wrote Samir Kakli in an email. “I urge you to do the right thing and re-open ICBR … as a polling station in the upcoming elections.”
Wrote Carol Esser and Joseph Herko: “I am saddened and disgusted by your response to xenophobic interests. If our polling place was in a black neighborhood, would you change it? If it was in a Jewish facility, would you bend to people’s biases and change it to another location? … Shame, shame, shame on you.”
Wrote Karen Howell: “Thank you for moving election poll site from a Mosque. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Everyone I know agrees with the move. We thank you.”
Wrote Becky Dymond: “I would not be comfortable entering into the Islamic Center of Boca Raton to vote … It is not Islamophobia to be concerned about public statements supporting Sharia law which are contrary to the basic tenets of democracy as practiced by our nation.”
The mosque, which sits adjacent to Florida Atlantic University, opened in July 2012 for the rapidly growing Muslim population in southern Palm Beach County. It serves as a place for prayer, as an education center and a place for community gathering.
By Sallie James